The Houston Astros officially own the American League West.
With a win in Toronto and the Oakland A’s dramatic walk-off loss in Seattle, Houston wrapped up its second straight division title. Now they’ll look to repeat history twice by becoming the first team to win back-to-back World Series since the New York Yankees won three straight from 1998 to 2000.
It wasn’t always smooth sailing this season. The Athletics, Angels and Mariners all looked like possible threats to Houston’s crown at various points during the season. The A’s remained on the Astros heels right up until the final week, but Houston just had too much firepower in every department.
Only the Boston Red Sox have a better record than the 100-win Astros. It’s arguable that any team has more talent. Houston’s rotation is loaded with Justin Verlander, Dallas Keuchel, Gerrit Cole, Lance McCullers Jr. and Charlie Morton. The offense features former AL MVP Jose Altuve, World Series MVP George Springer, and All-Star game MVP Alex Bregman, not to mention Carlos Correa.
Oh, and the Astros revamped bullpen has the best ERA in MLB by nearly a quarter run.
It’s almost unfair.
McCullers and Correa are admittedly less than 100 percent right now, but if they get right the Astros could be the team to beat again.
The Astros already know they’ll be hosting the Cleveland Indians in the ALDS. Houston won the season series 4-3. Before we get there though, let’s a take a quick look at how the Astros made it here, and what they’ll need to do to win it all again.
MLB best 12-game winning streak in June
The Astros never looked like a team with a World Series hangover. However, despite entering June with the fourth-highest winning percentage in MLB, the Astros had yet to hit their second gear. That changed quickly as Houston rattled off an MLB season-high 12 straight wins from June 6-18. Included in that was a three-game sweep of the Oakland A’s, which obviously loomed large in the final standings.
The Astros finished June with a 19-8 mark, and have held first place ever since. They’re finishing the season even stronger, posting a 17-4 record in September.
A new ace in town
Astros general manager Jeff Luhnow stayed one step ahead of the competition when he acquired flame-throwing right-hander Gerrit Cole from the Pittsburgh Pirates. Houston already had three aces with Verlander, Keuchel and McCullers. Cole became the fourth ace, and for most of the season looked like Houston’s true No. 1.
The 27-year-old right-hander had been a Cy Young candidate before, but managed to take another significant step forward this season. He put together dominant start after dominant start, while racking up strikeouts at a furious pace. Cole had six double-digit strikeout games in five seasons with the Pirates. This season alone, he has eight.
Cole gives Houston five potential shutdown starters manager A.J. Hinch can turn to in October. We say five assuming McCullers will return healthy, and because we can’t forget the great season All-Star Charlie Morton has enjoyed.
What the Astros have to do to win the World Series
It will not be a cakewalk for Houston. Not when you look at the competition in the AL. But at times this season the Astros were probably their own toughest opponent.
We say that because the Astros admittedly weren’t having as much fun this season, especially when they hit a rough patch during August. That’s when they started upping their celebration game with some fun and hilarious moments in the dugout. Those celebrations, which included a hilarious camera stare routine, helped the team loosen up and get on track again.
The Astros shouldn’t be short on confidence entering the postseason, so simply staying loose and executing may be their biggest keys to success.
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